GHG reduction potential of biofuels in Asia: Issues and policy implications

Event: Energy security and climate change: Issues, strategies and options, 6-8 August 2008, Bangkok, Thailand
Date: 6-8 August 2008

Biofuels have attracted significant interest because of their potential to reduce CO2 emissions, but the extent to which they can actually do so has not been clearly determined. Nevertheless, many countries in the region have either started producing or have plans to produce bioethanol and biodiesel, and have set long term targets for them to replace considerable amounts of fossil fuels. These policies mainly motivated by a desire to enhance energy security and promote rural development, as CO2 emissions reduction is not a high priority for many Asian countries.
The current paper addresses the question of whether the biofuel promotion strategies of the countries in the region are likely to achieve CO2 reductions. In order to do this, it will analyze existing life cycle analysis (LCA) studies, mainly conducted outside of Asia and comparing the parameters with conditions in the Asian region in order to determine how the results obtained for Asia would differ from the results obtained outside of Asia. In Asia, biofuels are produced from a wide variety of feedstocks, including some that are also cultivated in western countries, such as corn and spent cooking oil, but also several that are not, such as sugarcane, palm oil, jatropha, cassava, and coconut.
There are very few LCA studies carried out in the Asian context. However, the relevant conditions are different in Asian region, for example in terms of input use efficiency and productivity. Since fertilizer, water and energy input use efficiency and crop productivity are important determinants of CO2 emissions and net energy values of biofuels, we argue that, there is a possibility that the countries in the region may not be able to achieve the CO2 reduction potential of biofuels reported in the literature.
Inputs such as water, fertilizers, energy and labor would have to be managed more carefully than it has been done in the region if countries want to achieve the full potential of biofuels, not only CO2 emissions reduction but also energy security, economic development, in a cost effective manner. The current level of energy efficiency in agriculture (unit amount of energy used to produce unit amount of output) in the region is still below world standards. In addition, fertilizer use, which has been one of the important contributors to CO2 emissions in biofuel production, would have to be strictly managed.
Policy options those promote high input use efficiency would have to be put in place. Any certification system to be put in place should consider the amount of inputs used and their efficiency to produce biofuels. There is a need to promote thorough life cycle analysis of all important feedstocks in the region covering all agro-ecological zones in the region to arrive at realistic estimates of CO2 reduction potential of biofuels.

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